Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance Review

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has some pretty damn giant sabatons to fill. As the spiritual successor towards the beloved Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance 1 and 2, and as the initial new D&D game in over 5 years, Tuque Games’ cooperative dungeon crawler has plenty to live as much as. Mix in R.A. Salvatore’s iconic Companions from the Hall, and it’s easy to understand why expectations for Dark Alliance are greater than the snow-covered peaks of Icewind Dale. There’s a great deal riding on the success of the game, specifically Wizards of the Coasts’ plans to resurrect Dungeons & Dragons as a popular gaming I.P.

It’s then with great joy that I can proclaim Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance largely succeeds in this quest, though not without suffering a few nearly fatal wounds. Thankfully, Dark Alliance passes its saving throw. Like this questionable rogue in your party, Dark Alliance includes a few glaring flaws holding it back, yet it’s more than able to demonstrating a great time. It just must work on a number of its attributes if it plans to survive the following few rounds.

Dungeon & Dragons: Dark Alliance – Emphasis on the “Dungeons.”

For those of you who are still somehow unfamiliar with Dungeons & Dragons, all that you should know of the grandfather of pen and paper roleplaying games is that you will find dungeons, and that you will find dragons. I’m not trying to be facetious – both feature prominently in Dark Alliance, namely the dungeons. See, Dark Alliance is a dungeon crawler within the most traditional sense: you and preferably a celebration of friends begin with point A inside a dark and dangerous location, and make the right path towards the boss at point B while murdering each and every monster on the way.

If you’ve played any recent looter-shooter or live service game in the past couple of years you’ll pick up on Dark Alliance’s flow rather quickly. While there isn’t an open-world connecting the 21 different dungeons you’ll explore within the Icewind Dale locale of Dungeons & Dragons’ popular Forgotten Realms setting, the hub of Kelvin’ Cairn has everything an adventurer needs before setting out. There’s a roadmap to pick your pursuit (Dark Alliance’s reputation for levels), a merchant to upgrade your armor along with other crucial items, along with a . . . reward chest?

Dark Alliance has been when compared with Fatshark’s Vermintide 2 more often than once, and even for good reason. Mechanically, the 2 share much the same progression systems. That reward chest in Kelvin’s Cairn? It’s where you’ll collect your loot post-mission a la the reward coffers in Vermintide 2. The upgrade system for equipment? It’s functionally similar, if you can’t increase an item’s rarity as possible in Vermintide 2. No comparisons are 1:1, but the two games are a touch similar at a glance.

By no means is that this bad. If imitation is indeed flattery then Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is shameless in its adoration. But, don’t call Tuque Games’ action-RPG uninspired. In reality, each one of these comparisons forwards and backwards games are just skin deep – Dark Alliance isn’t a mimic of Vermintide 2, but it does remind me of my personal favorite elements in Fatshark’s title.

One of these elements may be the straight-forward dungeon crawling. Unlike Vermintide 2, all 21 dungeons in Dark Alliance are handcrafted. They’re all fairly straight-forward, but with many branching paths and hidden corners to explore. As the graphics are nothing to create a ballad about, the art and level designers absolutely crushed it in Dark Alliance. Each dungeon oozes that distinct D&D aesthetic, though it does go just a little heavy around the dwarves in early stages. From molten dwarven foundries, to dazzling crystal towers, each dungeon is really a visual treat.

As to get interior and exterior these dungeons there’s hardly any chaff between both you and your dungeon run in Dark Alliance. Simply pick your character, select your quest, then enter the portal to teleport yourself onward to untold adventure! You’ll maim a lot of monsters, collect loot, defeat someone else in charge, then go back home to wash and repeat until you’re ready for a break. This can be done both solo or in a celebration as high as four players, though believe me when i state you actually, actually want to get the band together for this one.

Companions of the Virtual Hall

In Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance you and also three friends can take up arms because the famed Companions from the Hall, to incorporate fan-favorite Drizzt Do’Urden. Yes, you can play as Dungeons & Dragons’ most popular Drow fighter, though you’re restricted to only one of each character until a post-launch update unlocks the choice to play as any mixture of Catti-bries, Wulfgars, Bruenors, and Drizzts as your party sees fit.

At the beginning of the sport you’ll have to select one of the four Companions to experience as, though you are free to change characters whenever you want (you can even create duplicate characters). Each character needs to be leveled up separately (up to and including cap of 20), and gear isn't shared. Playing as a new character is similar to starting Dark Alliance once again, sans having to unlock the Quests and dungeons once more.

Until Tuque patches in the option to play as any combination of characters, you’ll likely have to experience at least two different companions in case your gaming group has conflicting picks. This isn’t an enormous deal at first glance, but Dark Alliance is very much a cooperative game first and foremost, meaning the solo experience is, well, it’s not the most ideal way to level and equipment your characters.

That said, solo is the best way to enjoy the basic narrative and mountains of lore in Dark Alliance. It’s clear Wizards of the Coast hopes to bring new fans in to the fold with Dark Alliance, even though the narrative is really just a giant lore-dump, the different tomes and tablets scattered through the 21 different dungeons do an excellent job of fleshing the setting of Icewind Dale and the tale of the Companions from the Hall for newcomers. What better way to gather and enjoy these lore entries than to play uninhibited while alone?

As for gameplay, co-op is the absolute king. Let me say this up front: solo play in Dark Alliance is perfectly viable; it’s also not nearly as much fun as dungeon delving with friends. As obvious and eye-rolling as that could sound, the cooperative and solo experiences might as well appear in different realms. You can play Dark Alliance alone and offline, however i don’t recommend it.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

It’s essential for me to state which i spent most time in Dark Alliance alone. While Tuque did provide us the way to play the game with a full party, my current location isn't entirely ideal for online play. Having been an employee from the Middle East for a few years now, I’m much more sympathetic to the plight of gamers who either can’t access online games, or are extremely far from a server to warrant even trying to matchmaker with other people.

That’s the problem I discovered myself in in this review, and that i wish to commend Tuque for ensuring Dark Alliance wasn't an always-online experience, with all content available to solo players. Having said that, the game’s difficulty was clearly balanced around group play, and in many different ways this makes the single-player experience one of the most frustrating games I’ve played in the past few years. Well, at least until I learned to disregard the recommended Combat Power attached to each difficulty level.

Gear Score, Electricity, Item Level; refer to it as what you should, RPGs nowadays all seem to feature some numerical indication of your overall strength. In Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance this really is represented from your Combat Power. This metric takes your level, allocated Attribute points, and equipment into consideration before shitting out several that you could then use to determine if you’re ready to undertake the following Challenge Level, Dark Alliance’s six difficulty tiers.

There’s only one gnome-sized problem; the recommended Combat Power attached to each Challenge Level was established with cooperative play in mind. To put it bluntly, if you try to tackle a Challenge Level in Dark Alliance at the exact recommended Combat Power while playing solo you’re set for the roughest, toughest, psuedo-Soulslike experience with your gaming life.

You’ll barely dent enemy health and will most likely find yourself dead in a single hit, even from the lowliest of goblins. There’s “git good,” and there’s “git fucked,” and trying to overcome a Challenge Level in the exact recommended Combat Power while playing solo is firmly in the latter camp. It wasn’t until I realized solo was better balanced around playing a complete tier lower than the greatest available to me which i started to appreciate single-player more.

Despite this revelation, soloing could be a pain to enjoy. Enemy aggro is dependant on proximity in Dark Alliance, so it’s not unusual to locate yourself getting whaled on and pummeled to death even just in lower Challenge Levels as your ass may be the only one available. At higher difficulties, even those you are able to reasonably handle, this particular A.I. quirk resulted in many an inexpensive death, as I’d enter an arena then get routinely massacred by everybody in the room.

Unlike these Vermintide 2, you can’t fill your party with A.I. companions in Dark Alliance. As i don’t necessarily want bots that can completely carry my ass, having anyone around to attract aggro while playing alone might have made the overall experience less aggravating. Even one A.I. controlled character could have been nice, if perhaps to have access to the powerful Team Attacks you never reach use while playing solo. At the end of your day, however, it’s you versus the forces of evil in Icewind Dale, and your ass has a bright red bullseye painted onto it.

It didn’t help that loot in Dark Alliance is completely boring, a minimum of functionally. We live in a strange chronilogical age of gaming when I need to praise a game for making each new gear drop visually distinct, but here i am and Dark Alliance truly does understand this facet of loot right. Sure, the textures are a little muddy and not each piece is a beauty, but damn was I pleased to have loot that altered my character’s appearance.

The stats, however, are pretty generic to have an RPG. There are increases to stamina regeneration, critical hit chance, and total health. You are able to grab set bonuses that’ll raise the drop chance of health orbs from enemies – you receive the purpose. Mechanically, gear gets the job done, and fans of Dark Alliance will inevitably chase god-rolls that’ll place their builds one stage further. Just, ya know, I kinda expect loot in a hack and slash action-RPG also to change how my character plays, like altering how my attacks work.

Oh well, boring but functional gear is fine after the day, even if it does harm your general drive to play Dark Alliance solo. The staid loot plus wonky difficulty scaling meant progression felt slow at best, and mind-numbingly tedious at worst whilst playing alone, though to Tuque’s credit they've been absolutely transparent about solo play in Dark Alliance being the inferior way to play. So, hey, I’m overjoyed the choice is here now and that i ultimately enjoyed time playing the game solo, but if able you should absolutely play Dark Alliance with other people.

(Dodge) Roll for Initiative

Dark Alliance wouldn’t be worth playing either in single-player or multiplayer if the combat was hot garbage. It’s sorta, kinda, maybe the cornerstone of the hack and slash action-RPG, and Dark Alliance’s “Emergent Combat” mostly delivers. It simply has Nine Hells of the learning curve.

Dark Alliance utilizes a stamina-based combat system that’s become the norm in the last half-decade. Light attacks and Fierce attacks (heavy attacks by another name) consume stamina, and once you take out you can’t attack, dodge, or block for a moment. On paper, combat isn’t all that different from other, similar action games that map your two attacks right trigger and bumper, but it’s the lack of canned animations and more free-form combo system that sets Dark Alliance’s “Emergent Combat” apart from its peers.

Combos can (mostly) be chained together freely, and rather than memorizing complex combo chains players merely need to remember a handful of directional inputs tied to the left stick (or W and S keys on keyboard). Used this system allows players to chain together attacks easily, yet remains deep enough for hardcore players to master over time. There’s some issue with the combat that nearly undermines the entire experiment, however.

See, in those other action-RPGs you are able to tilt the left stick to pivot and shift your attacks in the direction of your choosing. In Dark Alliance your attacks only go in the direction the digital camera is facing. This wouldn’t be so bad if Dark Alliance drilled that time home, but apparently the sport rolled a 1 in Wisdom because it simply expects players to pick up about this nuance.

You’re supposed to play Dark Alliance like an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter, yet with melee (much like Warframe), but many years of established muscle memory run counter to this. You’ll instinctively tilt your left stick to confront an enemy in your flank, but instead of your character turning to face them they’ll launch themselves forward and away from your foe. There isn’t a soft lock-on in Dark Alliance, therefore if your current target shifts even a little outside the center of your view you’ll whiff your attacks.

You can use hard lock-on feature to pay attention to a single enemy, except it’s the worst implementation of a lock-on system I’ve seen in years. The camera zooms in so near to your character that you simply lose all situational awareness of the battlefield. Since enemies attack based on proximity this is a surefire way to get yourself murdered by all of the enemies you are able to no more see. There's a “threat ring” around your character with arrows that change color to indicate incoming attacks, but it’s impossible to see while locked-on to the given target.

It doesn’t help matters the camera sensitivity is sluggish on a controller, even when maxed out. Tuque Games claims Dungeons & Dragons is best used a controller, however the camera-based aiming and slow turn-rate can even make mouse and keyboard the superior input method. For just one, most mice could be tuned to pay for the low camera sensitivity, making it easier and more intuitive to swing the digital camera round and track enemies in the heat of combat.

Second point of argument: camera-based targeting is more common on PC, so when your camera sensitivity is placed perfect combat feels much more fluid and responsive having a mouse. As a third and final point: you're always tilting the left stick in some direction, however subtle, on a controller, which leads to combat feeling erratic and uncontrollable after you’ve unlock Moves that rely on it for input. On the keyboard though, players are accustomed to tapping the WASD keys as required, so accidental combo inputs are uncommon.

In short, combat in Dark Alliance can swing in a single of two directions based on your preference of control. Having a gamepad you’ll have to unlearn ten years approximately of muscle memory, otherwise it’ll feel like the combat is unwieldy and chaotic. With mouse and keyboard you’ll have to remap a few keybinds, but you’re otherwise in a stronger position to understand Dark Alliance’s “Emergent Combat.”

Combat does come dangerously close to grievously wounding itself in the attempt to be more accessible, but once you realize you need to turn your camera to alter the direction of the attacks and that the lock-on is utter trash, it begins to click together, whether you are using a controller or having a mouse and keyboard. It may take some time to find its rhythm, but combat in Dark Alliance is really a splendid symphony of destruction once it comes down together. It just takes a while to get there.

This symphony is the more enjoyable in co-op, as each player launches a flurry of attacks able to decimating entire armies of goblins, verbeeg, duergar, and other monstrous people in the titular Dark Alliance. Animations are routinely solid and flow together nicely, and attacks are accompanied by punchy thuds and slashes. It may take some time to acclimate to the controls, but once it gets moving combat in Dark Alliance feels good, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

A Dark Alliance of Issues

That said, Tuque Games should give a soft lock-on of sorts to help players utilizing a controller, and they have to pull the particular lock-on camera far back. At the very least, they have to double the camera sensitivity, because the default is simply way too slow for Dark Alliance’s combat. I foresee many potential fans bouncing off the game because of these small but consequential issues, that’s how impact they are.

These were not the only problems I encountered in Dark Alliance. The sport isn’t the buggiest title I’ve played in recent memory, but it’s up there. I’ve drifted away from ladders as I’ve climbed them, and gotten stuck on enemies’ heads. I’ve seen corpses glitch out and jitter within the environment and animations desync, like the time I knocked a verbeeg onto its fat ass just for it to teleport five meters and back onto its butt after rising to the feet.

The most disruptive bug I noticed was audio not playing in the correct channel. I want to say Dark Alliance has simply no positional audio, however it became clear the entire soundscape was bugged when I noticed audio mixing was all over the place. I’d hear enemies that were before me from behind. Music would swell then leap over all other sound channels, drowning out everything else. It’s a shame this bug exists, since the sounds, music, and voice overs in Dark Alliance are all quite good, but it’s difficult to enjoy the soundscape when it’s in this state of distress.

There have course faults in the general design as well. Remember that reward chest I mentioned presents itself this review? It’s how you grab your loot after a successful mission, and you've got to show your loot before moving forward, similar to a loot box. You are able to quick equip items out of this chest, however, you can’t compare the items against your current equipment, defeating the entire reason for using a quick equip function.

You also cannot mark items as junk, so you've to sell off all of your trash one item at a time. Upgrading and downgrading crystals should be an easy to know process, but it seems like Tuque overthought the entire ordeal. These are just a few of the weird design quirks found throughout Dark Alliance.

Then you will find the weird multiplayer issues. You can’t join a party mid-quest, so if someone in your group disconnects they can’t rejoin. If your host disconnects you potentially lose all your loot. If you want to invite someone to your party you should utilize your platform’s social menus since there’s not a way to do this in-game. For any multiplayer-centric game, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance does go well from it’s method to make playing with your pals cumbersome and awkward.

And on and on the list goes. There’s a dark alliance of small yet significant issues hellbent on using the game down, but they can’t quite accomplish it. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is extremely clearly a AA game, though I often wonder what Tuque Games would have done with an extra month of polish. Unlike other games I’ve reviewed this season Personally i think pretty confident in Tuque’s ability to address these problems; I just hope they’re capable of working their magic at some point.

The Verdict

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance nearly impales itself on its own sword. Solo play is mediocre at best, the loot is uninspired, and also the combat often trips over itself due to a handful of small yet impactful issues. There are a legion of problems harassing the sport at each turn, threatening to consider it down at any moment. For all intents and purposes Dark Alliance ought to be an aggressively mediocre video game.

Tuque Games must have rolled an all natural 20 on their own saving throw, because none of these faults are able to bring Dark Alliance down. It’s a good cooperative dungeon crawler that’s positively dripping with D&D’s iconic Companions setting and lore. The combat may take some getting used to, and putting your party together is much more fiddly than it needs to be, yet Dark Alliance remains an entertaining adventure from beginning to end.

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